On November 9th, 2015, WBUR’s Radio Boston host Meghna Chakrabarti interviewed Lisa McGirr on The War On Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State. I think you will really enjoy listening to the show.
(If the audio link does not appear, you can listen to the show here.)
Here are some of my favorite moments in their conversation.
Meghna asked Lisa to share how she came to write the book. Here is part of her response:
I love doing history from the bottom up and this was an effort to get to the experiences, for example, of working class immigrant ethnic men and women, different groups, African Americans in the cities and in the countryside, to understand the wide implications of Prohibition for all Americans across the board. And the differential implications by race, by class and by gender.”
This is the first time there is a massive expansion of the Federal government in crime control, in 1919 through the 18th Amendment. And it’s the first time that crime is really identified as a national problem and that has all sorts of ramifications for the expansion of the state toward policing and serveillance through Prohibition and throu the war on alcohol and its collateral effects of course. Prohibition generated a national obsession over crime and criminality….This was a moment when the prison system was expanded, was reorganized….”
…neglecting and not understanding the history of Prohibition accurately–the ways in which it contributed to Penal state building–we have failed to see the way that we are continuing essentially along those same paths and the flaws that are inherent in any crusade against these recreational substances. I mean, addiction is a huge problem…however the solution is not these kind of prohibitionary measures. That was proved in the 1920’s, by 1933 there’s a wide consensus. Hopefully now we’re getting to a place where there’s a little bit of opening to break the consensus that has developed on the war on drugs, because the implications have been, I think, even far more devastating on a domestic and global scale.”
Police from Boston’s Division 9 with casks seized during Prohibition, circa 1930. (Boston Public Library/flickr)